Edward J. Zambraski, chairman of exercise science and sport studies at Rutgers University, says the equine industry devotes just one-halfof 1 percent of its $15 billion economic impact to research on horses.
"More than 110 million people each year make horse racing the biggest spectator sport in the U.S.," Zambraski said last weekend at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine's 14th annual meeting, which was held at the Western Maryland College Conference Center in Westminster.
"And more than 27 million people in this country ride horses eachyear. Yet very little research is being done on the physiology of the horse. Compare the proportion of money spent on equine research with the 16 percent spent each year by the pharmaceutical industry."
Zambraski conducts research on cardiology and kidney disease and usually works with miniature swine. But a few years ago the American Association of Equine Practitioners invited Zambraski to take a fresh, unbiased look at the state of equine research.
"They didn't like a lot of what they heard," Zambraski admits, "but they wanted a 90-minute critique of research related to equines and how to apply this to training methods."
Zambraski found that, in 1988, there were only 1,500 research studies being conducted on horse-related matters nationwide.
Zambraski ranked the studies, according to subject, by numberof studies being conducted and amount of money being spent. The top category was research into drug-related matters, the second category related to reproduction, the third to muscle and skeletal injuries.
The lowest-ranked category, with only 80 studies, was exercise physiology.
"The horse has a great ability to utilize oxygen and to transport great quantities of oxygen during exercise," says Zambraski. "For its size, the horse can pump greater amounts of blood through its body than any other animal. Yet very little is known about how to maximize the horse's performance as an athlete."
Zambraski has identified several problems in equine exercise physiology. First, he has found a paucity of research.
"It takes a big commitment to set up research involving horses," Zambraski says. "Funding for equine research is very difficult. The industry does not contribute greatly to the efforts of the universities and research facilities."
Second, Zambraski says that the training methods currently in use, especially for racehorses, are based more on tradition than on science. Few scientific findings relate to methods, and those that are known are largely ignored.
Next, Zambraski says that a horse is not biomechanically designed to run.
"There is a great potential for injury in race horses," he says. "When a horse is fatigued, the injury potential is very severe."
Zambraski has found that in the horse-racing industry there is an emphasis on trying to breed for what you want rather than training to get results.
"The ability of any athlete is determined by two things: genes and improvement through training," Zambraskiexplains. "In most athletes, the least important of these is genes, and the most important is proper training.
"Over the years there has been improvement in the athletic ability and accomplishment of human beings through application of scientific findings and methods to training regimens," Zambraski says. "This just hasn't happened in training horses."
One reason for this, says Zambraski, is the unwillingness of trainers to work a horse at high intensity and to train through fatigue.
Another barrier to improved performance, Zambraski says, is the reliance of the racing industry on the diuretic Lasix.
"There is too much dehydration in horses," he says. "Horses have a problem with dissipating heat, and their spleen puts out a great volumeof blood cells. Horses need quantities of water for plasma volume."
Zambraski says his advice on allowing horses access to more water before, during and after exercise does not apply just to racehorses, but to pleasure and show horses as well.
"On long trail rides, after trailering and at horse shows, horses can get very dehydrated," heexplains.
Zambraski says lack of electrolytes is not a big problem.
"Except on very long, very strenuous endurance rides, most horses' bodies will produce a proper balance of electrolytes. What the horse really needs is water -- just plain water."